The theme they chose was cowboy/ranch hand—Carl Bual, the groom-to-be, was a veterinary sales rep who’d grown up in Bukidnon surrounded by horses, and he wanted to relive that time in his life. And who was I to say no to an equine-related concept (those of you who’ve been following my blog will know I’ve become terribly obsessed with horses)? Aside from horses and stables and cowboy boots, I was also imagining throwing a big bad pickup truck into the mix. You see, I wanted a “gritty” feel, if you know what I mean. Something action-packed, and somewhat reckless, even. Especially after Carl made it very clear that “I don’t want anything cheesy—no hugging, no squeezing, no kissing.” This assertion took Malou Pages (of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing), the main photographer, by surprise, and I think we almost choked on our macarons when Carl said this. By the look in Malou’s face, I could tell she was thinking, But what’s an engagement shoot without the hugging, the squeezing and the kissing? But, well, as the saying goes, “To each his own.” Besides, what else were you supposed to expect from a guy like Carl, what with his stocky frame, thundering baritone, and hands the size of a giant’s? (I swear, at one point I caught myself thinking, I better give this guy what he wants, lest I want to end up being sucker punched in the face!)
Conversely, the fiancée RJ Serafin (first cousin to my good friend Ace, Vice Mayor of Tabogon, Cebu—what a small world, right?) didn’t want the whole thing to be too mannish. For one, she didn’t want her outfits to be too western-inspired. Incredibly soft-spoken and ever the lady (she’s a preschool teacher, after all), she wanted a little girly touch, a little romance. I told her the cowboy boots were non-negotiable, and so were the cowboy hats, but promised I was gonna stay away from dirty jeans or anything plaid and/or gingham. At first I was tempted to slap a little Gigi Mortimer kicking back at her country cottage in Harrington, NY, against the mood board—i.e., romantic equestrian—but immediately I scratched that as soon as I realized that chunky sweaters and traditional knee-high riding boots would be too much for RJ’s slight frame (yes, she’s pint-sized, the polar opposite of Carl’s colossus). Thankfully, I was able to dig up a couple of floral dresses from The Fab Grab’s archives. I particularly fell in love with this ‘90s-style black floral prairie dress. It reminded me of what Cynthia Geary’s character Kellie wore some 35 minutes into the movie 8 Seconds, when she approached Luke Perry’s character as he was forking hay in a barn, and then she uttered the most beautiful lines: “Nothing you could say or do would make you less in my eyes. I love you. You don’t have to be perfect for me.” (It’s my favorite scene from that movie, especially since, after that, Perry’s character replied, “You may have to prove it. Right now, [when] I’m covered in horse shit,” and then they kissed, and Karla Bonoff’s “Standing Right Next to Me” started playing in the background, and then it was fade out, and fade in to the wedding scene.) For this reason alone I knew I just had to get this black dress into the picture, to add a little touch of 8 Seconds to my work! I didn’t want RJ’s wardrobe to be all dresses, though, so I took this one dress—the green floral one, which was a bit sheer—and asked her to wear it unbuttoned in the front, like as an open robe/maxi cardigan, over a little boy’s tank top and a pair of denim Daisy Dukes. I was taking a cue from the latest craze that had been sweeping the Lookbook.nu and Chictopia communities, which entailed, well, girls wearing their sheer maxi dresses (most of them from UNIF Clothing) unbuttoned in the front, as maxi cardigans. (Before this shoot I’d also adopted this style for one of the outfits that the model Fretzel Buenconsejo was going to wear for the Gracie Q catalog—click here and look for the series of photos where she’s frolicking with little children.) Add a Swarovski-encrusted seashell-colored stretch-jersey gala gown by Lotte Delima-Edwards to the mix, and we were on our way to being a far cry from the hackneyed cowgirl look that RJ wanted to avoid.
Funny thing happened on the day of the shoot. You know the macho Carl who’d said that hugging, squeezing and kissing in photos wasn’t his style? Well, that was still the same Carl who hopped into the van that was to take us to our location—he wouldn’t even laugh at the makeup artist’s jokes, he’d just chuckle and shake his head! When we arrived at our destination, though, as RJ was having her hair and makeup done, he was reckless enough to grab a bottle of Red Horse beer before seeking to get acquainted with, well, the actual horses that we were going to be using for the shoot. At first I was a little concerned about this, and about how RJ just sat there and encouraged this foolhardy behavior, but it would soon prove to work to our advantage: after a few bottles, Carl suddenly became so invigorated and cheerful—and he was suddenly OK with the idea of hugging and squeezing and kissing in front of the cameras! He’s gonna hate me for writing this down on here, but, hey, people are gonna see these photos, anyway, and are gonna wonder what happened to all the macho, so better put the whole backstory out there, right? I still got what I wanted, though, in the form of a badass pickup truck, which was “gritty” enough for me—I’m sorry, but there’s something about mud and dirt and off-road wheels (and mud and dirt on off-road wheels) that make me feel, um, alive (guess there’s still some macho in me, after all).
We were going to do this whole thing in Bukidnon—this would’ve been my first out-of-town shoot (well, save for the occasional sessions in Ormoc) and my first time to visit that part of the country (i.e., Mindanao). But we’d ran into some scheduling conflicts (November last year brought in an exceptional run of green lights—click here to read about our jampacked schedule that month), which had left us with no choice but to do it a little closer to home. Thank God Carl’s good friend Marlo Causin, a veterinarian, had a ranch (that also doubled as a fishing pond) that was only an hour and a half southwest of Cebu, in Barili. At first I was kind of in a funk about Bukidnon not happening, but when we arrived at the Causin property I immediately thanked the heavens that it didn’t—one, Marlo a champion host (I won’t enumerate all the stuff he made us eat that day); and two, I got to meet and photograph the most beautiful horse I’d ever seen in this part of the world!
Sabina, that’s how they named her. Probably because she looked like a sabino-white. I say “looked like” because she’s not a true sabino-white—if you look closely (e.g., at her muzzle), you will see her underlying skin is somewhat grayish. Of course, goes without saying that this did not make her less stunning. She was so towering and regal, she reminded me of the Andalusians I’d met at the Kentucky Horse Park in the summer of 2010. And unabashedly affectionate, too—she was always trying to plant a kiss on Carl’s cheek, like she wanted to steal the show from RJ and be the bride-to-be!—and was a darling in front of the cameras, like she’d grown up around show business! She was just a joy to photograph that I didn’t want the set that featured her to ever end! Malou kept saying, “OK, next outfit! Next set!” but a lot of times I had to pretend not not to hear her, ‘cause I just didn’t wanna let go of Sabina!
The Causins had two other horses in the property: Venus, Sabina’s daughter, and a strapping stallion named Bravo. We’d been told beforehand that we couldn’t borrow Venus for the sitting ‘cause she’d been in a foul mood lately, so she had to be kept at bay (and true enough, when I went to see her, she kind of threatened to buck!). We were supposed to use Bravo for one of the sets, but then just as his caretakers were readying him we noticed that he had a nasty cut in his right pastern, and so we had no choice but to let him sit this one out. Shame, because he was a beauty, too, what with his shiny chestnut coat and all! But I’ll be back for you one day, Bravo (I hope)!
I love it when the theme is country or cowboy. And not just for the obvious reason that it allows me to be around and/or photograph horses, but also because it’s the kind of theme where my subjects can have a crazy good time and be spontaneous, you know? Like, they’re kind of in character, but at the same time they can just be themselves. No contrived poses or positions, no fidgeting because the outfits make them uncomfortable, no trying hard to borrow, say, Kristine Hermosa’s smile (swear to God, I can’t wait to see the day I’ll hear the last of couples wanting to “copy” the Kristine-Oyo engagement photos!). I guess this is the exact same reason why I love the grunge theme, too. It’s, like, there’s a theme, but it’s not there, you know? It stylizes your subjects, but doesn’t disguise them.
On our drive back to the city after the shoot had wrapped, Carl and RJ were discussing song choice—i.e., what song to incorporate in the slideshow of their engagement photos (to be played during the wedding reception). Although between the two of them they shared a couple of love songs that meant a lot to them, this time they wanted something from the country genre, in keeping with the theme. I was quick to dispense advice on the matter, just ‘cause two of the most beautiful love songs I’d ever heard in my life happened to be from that genre: the aforementioned “Standing Right Next to Me” by Karla Bonoff, from 8 Seconds (perfect, in fact, because didn’t they play it in the movie’s wedding scene?), and “I Cross My Heart” by George Strait. They’d never heard of these songs before, and I didn’t have my iPod handy, so I recited to them a couple of lines from both. Needless to say, they loved them, and Carl was quick to declare that, of the two, he liked the George Strait more. I don’t know if they ended up using either, but I sure hope they did.
Carlos Bual and Rachelle Jean Serafin | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Barili, Cebu, on November 20, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Charisse Darlene Calo and Paul Armand Calo for Calography (click here to view some of Malou’s photos) | Hair and makeup by JingJing F. Maching | Amaranth pink floral-print cotton-blend dress with cap sleeves, black floral-print button-front prairie dress, and hunter green floral-print button-front stretch-silk shirtdress (worn as maxi cardigan), all from The Fab Grab | White tank top, Forever 21 | Swarovski-encrusted seashell stretch-jersey gala gown, Lotte Delima-Edwards | Accessories, Gracie Q
“If you could photograph only one thing in the world, what would it be?” A friend of mine once asked me this question almost out of the blue. She was half-expecting me to scream “Chris Burden’s Urban Light outside the LACMA!” or go all out and pick a really outrageous subject like, say, the divine Kate Moss, and so what rolled out of my tongue took her by surprise: “A horse.” And I wasn’t kidding, too—in fact, this was the most honest answer I’d ever given anyone. To which she intoned incredulously, “Why a horse?” I just laughed and said, you know, “Well, why the hell not?”
Said this a gazillion times before, and I’ll say it again now: To me, there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing a horse throw its head up, arch its back, and whip its tail. Pure, unadulterated magic. Hundreds of other animals out there, I know, but, to me, none of them possess and harmonize two opposing qualities as effectively and effortlessly as a horse does—i.e., not everything that’s fluid can be strapping at the same time, and not everything that’s strapping can be fluid—which is almost always what makes something such a thrill to watch (the reason why we are so fascinated with ballerinas, or why we can’t stop watching those Herb Ritts music videos, no?) and, well, to photograph.
I’d been fascinated with horses since time immemorial (the first ever book I’d finished in one sitting was Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty; I’d held on to my My Little Pony blanket well until I was halfway through high school; and for a time there I’d actually considered getting that silhouette of a stallion in the lower right corner of the album cover of the Deftones’ White Pony tattooed on my wrist), but this epiphany—the joy in taking pictures of them—didn’t occur to me until a year and a half ago, when I visited the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, on a mission to take pictures of the place for my cousin Amanda Liok, who loved horses to death and had dreamt of visiting that very place one day, and I ended up spending four or so hours just clicking away at every singe horse I bumped into, living or statued. Andalusians, American Minis, Palominos, even Frieisians! Majestic equine bronze statues (Herbert Haseltine’s rendition of the legendary Man o’ War, couple of Gwen Reardons)! I even got to witness and shoot some show jumping! It was such an exhilarating experience—needless to say, I didn’t want it to ever end. Flash forward to a year later, back home in Cebu, I was starting to lament the lack of opportunities to watch or photograph these fine creatures in this part of the world when, slowly but surely, they found a way to creep up on to—or, should I say “gallop into”—my frame. For a shoot in Busay last July, I was surprised when the stylist was able to commission a pretty little riding mare named Athena to join in the sitting. And then the following month, during my first ever gig as apprentice to Malou Pages (of Shutterfairy Photography), which took us up the mountains of Carmen, my mentor had to shoot me reproving glances upon realizing I was spending more time taking pictures of this stallion named Ferrari than of our clients. And then came November, which found us driving two hours down south to Barili to do a cowboy-themed engagement session—and what’s a cowboy-themed sitting without a couple of horses, right?
Three shoots that involved horses, none of them planned or foreseen, all of them a coincidence. Glad they came along and found me, because they only gave me the chance to prepare for my biggest shoot that was to involve horses. Which brings us to this shoot right here.
For more than a year I’d been promising my cousin Amanda that I was going to find time in my frenzied schedule to visit her in her new hometown of Palompon, Leyte (some two hours west of Ormoc City), and photograph her and her daughter Mia, and, well, their horses. I hadn’t seen her in ages, and during that time our only form of interaction had been our exchange of e-mails whenever I’d found myself in Kentucky—“It’s you that’s supposed to be here,” I would write. “You are going to love this place to bits!” To me, Amanda was many things, but a lover of horses above all—naturally, no one else had come to mind whenever I’d found myself in the “horse capital of the world.” She would respond to my e-mails saying that, yes, it had been her and her husband’s dream to visit Lexington one day, and then she would send me photos of the horses in her own backyard. What beauties! She had taken her childhood fancies and whims, and then put them together to put up her own little band of horses. When I told her at one point that “it turns out naming your horses is almost like an art”—this after I’d met horse owners/equestrians at the Horse Park who’d baptized their beloved beasts with some of the most enchanting names I’d ever heard (my personal favorites: Alcatraz, Countess, and Moonshine, the latter probably after the liquor since this was the American South, after all)—she’d shared that, yes, she’d taken the naming game pretty seriously herself, and had given the most charming monikers to those in her brood. Finding out that she’d named one of her babies Moondance? Enough to make me want to meet the beauty and the rest of the family in the flesh, and that was how the idea for this shoot had been born.
So aside from Moondance there were Salsa, Chili, Ginger, Ola, Baila, and Sol. When Amanda asked me which one I wanted to include in the shoot, I picked Moondance, and she validated my choice by saying that the mare’s strawberry roan made it very photogenic—true enough, against the vast vegetation in their backyard, her chestnut coat looked so dazzling that I found it hard to stop taking pictures of her! She was the most mild-mannered of them all, too, and had a Zen aura about her. You know what they say about never approaching a horse “from the behind?” Well, I approached her a couple of times from the rear, and Moondance didn’t seem to mind. (She was the complete and utter opposite of the subject of Curley Fletcher’s poem-turned-ballad called, well, “The Strawberry Roan,” which talks of a wild bucking horse: “An’ fer throwin’ good riders he’s had lots uh luck/ An’ he sez that this pony has never been rode/ That the boys that gits on him is bound to git throwed.”) Did I mention she was very affectionate towards her master, too? Every chance she got she would stick her muzzle against Amanda’s cheeks! I thought that was just cute. I wanted to include Salsa in some of the frames, because I was in love with her smoky black coating, but the caretaker told me that that mare had to rest (apparently, horses have to take a break, too)—I did get a chance to take a few shots of her while she was taking an afternoon stroll, though, and that was enough for now (I’ll be back for you, Salsa!).
For Mia’s set, we decided to include the latest addition to their ever-growing family: a 4-year-old Miniature named Iris. Pretty awesome, because only a year ago, when I’d showed Amanda my photos of the American Minis I’d spotted at the Horse Park, she’d said that it had been her dream to get Mia a Mini, and now here we were face-to-face with a dream come true! Actually, the little girl didn’t get just one but two Minis! The other one, Barrack, we couldn’t ask to join in the photos because he was in a foul mood that day and thus had to be kept at bay. That was alright, because Iris by herself was gorgeous enough. I would’ve wanted for Mia to mount Iris for a couple of frames, but Iris was pregnant (another Mini on the way!), so we just forgot about it.
Horses weren’t the only, um, quadrupeds that made special guest appearances that day. Mia’s blue Australian Cattle Dog named, well, Blue also joined in the fun. Such a mischievous little creature, that fella—he was all over the place, darting from left to right, jumping up and down, always wanting to play catch—but when it was time for him to face the camera he was surprisingly tame and well-behaved! Suffice to say that that doggie stole the show—it was as if he was thinking, I am not going to let a bunch of horses upstage me!
It’s uncanny how much Mia looks like her mom. I was staring at the little girl’s face, and it took me back to years ago when Amanda and I were little kids, and we’d lock ourselves up in her bedroom to play with her Barbies (actually, she would take me to her bedroom so I could play with her Barbies, and then she’d rush back out to play with the boys). It got me feeling somewhat, um, melancholic thinking that Amanda finally had a “mini her,” while here I was without a “mini me!” When I asked Mia what she wanted to be when she grew up, she just shook her head, pressed a thumb against her nose (she loves to do that, so cute!), and said she didn’t know yet. One thing’s for sure, though: she’s gonna take after her mother’s love of horses. When Amanda showed me a photo album of their recent trip to Down Under, noting that some of the more beautiful photos had been taken by Mia, I said, “I hope she grows up to be a photographer!” Of course, wishful thinking in my part that, since I didn’t have a “mini me” of my own, Mia would take after a part of me, too. Wouldn’t that be nice, though?
I was happy that I got to exercise a teensy-weensy bit of styling during this session. You see, I’d had reservations at first, knowing that Amanda and I, although we’d practically grown up together, had completely opposing views when it came to clothes (didn’t I mention me playing with her Barbies and her running off to play with the boys?)—i.e., she was the T-shirt-and-jeans kind of girl, while I favored, well, everything impractical. I was also aware of the fact that she was making a conscious effort to raise her daughter in a certain way—i.e., she didn’t want Mia to grow up appearance-conscious—and I wanted to respect that more than anything. But thank God she trusted me enough to let me have my way that day, and she agreed to wear some of the items that I’d brought along with me. I was in for a pleasant surprise, though, when, upon inspecting their closet to look for other items we could use, I spotted these exquisite little pairs of two-tone top-stitched cowboy boots (Amanda’s in aquamarine and coffee, and Mia’s in cameo pink and camel)—turned out that, although function was their utmost priority, they knew a thing or two about injecting a little form and fancy into their wardrobe, after all.
OK, OK. I know you’ve been thinking it while looking at all these photos, so let’s just get it out of the way, shall we? These are some seriously good-looking cowgirls right here. Amanda is going to laugh at this little commentary, though, even call it absurd, because she’s down-to-earth like that. But the fact that they didn’t need makeup to look this good in photos (our makeup artist friend Sheila On, my go-to girl whenever I have shoots in Leyte, wasn’t available that day) is only testimony to how naturally beautiful they are. But make no mistake, behind those pretty faces are some, well, pretty tough interiors. Like the horse that marries good looks and might, these girls possess those two qualities not easily contained in one person. Amanda, for example, is not one you would want to mess with. One can imagine her bringing home trophies from practical shooting competitions in South Africa, or hunting kangaroos in the Australian Outback—all of which, and more, as it happens, she’s actually already done. She’s the kind of girl that, growing up, I’ve been wanting to be, but, well, just can’t. But while I’m terribly unlucky that I can’t be her, I’m still lucky in that not only is she my first cousin, she’s also my oldest best friend.
Amanda Kangleon-Liok and her daughter Amilia (and their mares Moondance, Iris and Salsa, and their dog Blue) | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Palompon, Leyte, on November 27, 2011 | Special thanks to Marnelli Uyguangco | Hyperfloral jersey babydoll dress, Topshop | Vintage wash denim jacket, stylist’s own | Chambray folk skirt, The Fab Grab